From Brett Reece Iowa Conservation Officer
June is here and the peak of Iowa's pheasant hatch is at hand, so what can Iowa's upland hunters expect this coming season? Todd Bogenschutz, DNR upland wildlife biologist, says don't expect a lot of changes in Iowa's pheasants numbers this year. We make pre-season pheasant predictions each year based on winter and spring weather conditions as reported by NOAA. The predictions are based on a weather model using 50 years of DNR roadside count and weather data. The model is correct about 8 years out of 10. Last year our weather model predicted a decrease in pheasant numbers, said Bogenschutz, and our roadside counts confirmed this showing a -18% decrease statewide in pheasant numbers.
Our pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters (Dec.-March) with springs (April-May) that are dryer and warmer than normal. This past winter was unseasonably cold. Statewide snowfall from December through February averaged 36 inches. Pheasant populations have never increased following winters with 31 or more inches of snowfall, said Bogenschutz. Many bird enthusiasts were hoping a warm, dry spring would offset the cold and snowy winter. Unfortunately this spring nesting season (April/May) was unseasonably cool and wetter than normal. Statewide nesting season rainfall was 8 inches, while April/May temperatures averaged 2F degrees cooler than normal (Table 1). The state climatologist noted that April 2014 was the 10th consecutive wetter than normal April for Iowa. This year unfortunately the model is predicting no change or decline in bird numbers, said Bogenschutz.